As the federal government begins its dive into the gun debate, GOP lawmakers across the country are introducing preemptive measures that seek to make those hypothetical future federal firearms restrictions unenforceable in their states.
Republican lawmakers in Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington state have all sponsored legislation this month prohibiting the enforcement of federal laws and regulations on firearms, ammunition and firearms accessories produced and sold within their state.
In Michigan, 13 GOP state senators have introduced the Michigan Firearms Freedom Act to protect Michigan gun and ammunition manufacturers from federal regulation. The bill passed the state Senate Judiciary Committee in a 3-1 party-line vote Wednesday, which means it will now receive a full vote on the Senate floor.
Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), the only “no” vote on the committee, is concerned that the bill acts too soon and poses serious constitutional issues.
"The [new] federal regulations or laws aren't even out there yet," Bieda told the Detroit News. "I feel like we're buying a lawsuit without even knowing what the lawsuit is for."
Yet since 2009, legislators in at least 21 states have introduced their own version of the Firearms Freedom Act, arguing that the Ninth and 10th Amendments allow the states to treat the sale of firearms, ammunition and accessories as intrastate commerce, thus freeing those sales from federal oversight.
"The regulation of intrastate commerce is vested in the states," the Michigan bill reads. "Congress has not expressly preempted state regulation of intrastate commerce pertaining to the manufacture on an intrastate basis of firearms, firearms accessories, and ammunition."
Some states have taken their legislation a step further, threatening either monetary fines or imprisonment for any federal official who enforces federal gun laws within the states’ boundaries.
Arizona had already passed a measure to ward off federal gun restrictions on firearms sold and kept in the state in 2010, Now, a new bill proposed this month threatens to classify federal officials who enforce federal gun laws as Arizona Class 6 felons. Although this is the state's least severe felony classification, it can still lead to jail time for those convicted.
Similarly, Washington state's proposed Firearms Freedom Act could impose a penalty of five years' imprisonment or a $10,000 fine on federal employees enforcing federal gun laws and regulations.
One local government has also joined the fight against federal gun restrictions. The Franklin County Commission in southeastern Indiana unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday excluding the county from any past, present or future federal laws pertaining to gun control.
"I think it's time to express our feelings," Franklin County Commissioner Tom Wilson said in an interview with the Connersville News-Examiner. "It has to do with our Second Amendment, guns, gun control and infringement on our right to keep and bear arms."
Although the latest bills may or may not gain enough traction to become law, eight states -- Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming -- have already passed versions of the Firearms Freedom Act. Unlike the current proposed measures, these laws were passed in 2009 and 2010, before the new gun control efforts inspired by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence made the constitutional argument against the Firearms Freedom Act -- and its interstate/intrastate distinction -- in a May 2010 court filing over the Montana version of the law. The center wrote, "The Commerce Clause grants the federal government authority to regulate firearms because such weapons are easily and frequently sold and traded across state lines and used in crimes that affect commerce."
The case of Montana Shooting Sports Foundation v. Holder is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.